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US Marines Arrive in Earthquake Ravaged Haiti

Haitians watch as a US Navy helicopter lands in front of the heavily damaged presidential palace in Port-au-Prince 19 Jan 2010
Haitians watch as a US Navy helicopter lands in front of the heavily damaged presidential palace in Port-au-Prince 19 Jan 2010

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Thousands of United States Marines and other troops are moving into Haiti to assist with relief efforts one week after the country's deadly earthquake. Also Tuesday, the United Nations authorized sending more peacekeepers and police to the devastated nation to help maintain security. U.S. helicopters landed on the ground of the shattered presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

Crowds of Haitians cheered as the troops arrived and began to distribute aid.

The deputy commander of the U.S. military effort in Haiti, Army Major General Daniel Allyn, says military units will continue to deliver food, water and other critical supplies. "The delivery of capability here in Haiti is a balancing act that requires troops on the ground to distribute humanitarian assistance, the supplies for them to distribute and the mobility necessary for them to be able to reach the communities that are most stricken," he said.

As paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne provided security for the city's General Hospital, a U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit landed west of the capital.

The Marines will distribute aid in the area and establish a hub for delivery of relief supplies elsewhere.

While there have been reports of looting, General Allyn says U.N. and Haitian forces continue to have lead responsibility for security, which he says has been good despite extremely difficult circumstances. "We are watching for signs of instability.  At present, there are pockets in areas of Haiti and the U.N. security forces are working with the Haitian national police to address those pockets as they arise," he said.

U.S. commanders say more than 10,000 military personnel will be in Haiti or offshore within the next few days.

Also Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to authorize as many as 3,500 new peacekeepers and police for Haiti.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the Council's decision sends the message to the people of Haiti that the world is with them.  "We must do all we can to get these extra forces on the ground as soon as possible, so that they can help maintain order and deliver humanitarian assistance," he said.

Mr. Ban says distribution of tents, medical supplies, food and water is increasing daily. "We distributed daily food rations yesterday for nearly 200,000 people.  We expect to be reaching approximately one-million people within a week," he said.

Meanwhile, across from the presidential palace, relief workers delivered water to some of the huge number of people left homeless by the quake.

Inoge Laviette is with the aid organization Action Against Hunger and spoke with VOA's Jeff Swicord in Port-au-Prince. "Sometimes when they are desperate; they will drink any water - even dirty water with bacteria - to survive," he said.

Mirland Xavier's house was destroyed and for the past week she and her family have been sleeping under a tree. She says they are running out of food and money and have yet to receive assistance. "No one has distributed anything to us.  Whatever we have, we manage to share," she said.

Thousands of people are still believed to be buried under collapsed buildings, while streets continue to be littered with debris and decomposing bodies.

The desperate circumstances have led some Haitians to flee the capital for the countryside.

Officials estimate the earthquake killed about 200,000 people and affected an estimated 3 million, about a third of Haiti's population.

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